ALBANY — The more-contagious variant of COVID found in Saratoga Springs may be linked to United Kingdom travel after all.
The B117 variant, also called the U.K. variant after its point of origin, was confirmed Monday in a single person associated with the N. Fox Jewelers store on Broadway in Saratoga.
The infected person had not traveled, so the infection initially was believed to have resulted from community spread. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, however, that contact tracing has revealed potential contact between that person and a person who had traveled to the United Kingdom.
He would not disclose further details because of privacy concerns.
Three other people associated with N. Fox were subsequently found to be infected with COVID, but state health officials hadn’t determined by late Wednesday morning whether they have the B117 strain.
Isolating and identifying the variant takes about 44 hours at the state’s Wadsworth Laboratory, and the lab received the three samples Monday.
The B117 variant has not been shown to be more severe than other variants of the COVID virus — symptoms are not worse, mortality rate is not higher and the vaccines are not any less effective against it.
The problem is that it can spread from person to person more easily, potentially increasing the number of sick people at a time when the health care system is already inundated with COVID-positive patients.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, Cuomo said the pandemic continues to spread across New York, with the statewide positive test rate hitting 8.4% Tuesday, the second-highest one-day rate since May.
“It’s the holiday COVID hangover,” he said.
Hospitalizations continue to rise, hitting 8,665 statewide Tuesday and placing further strain on the medical system.
Hospitals are reporting that bed capacity is proving less of a challenge at this point than having enough people on duty to care for the patients in those beds, the governor added.
Statewide, 29% of hospital beds and 28% of ICU beds are available, but there is ability to add more beds in short order in the event of a surge.
In other COVID-related developments Wednesday:
- Cuomo said the state’s hospitals as a whole have accelerated their administration of the COVID vaccines in the two days since he threatened to fine them for not getting it into people’s shoulders fast enough. They had been administering 10,809 doses per day on average before Monday and administered an average of 31,157 Monday and Tuesday, he said, adding: “Performance has increased, we want it to increase more.”
- Statewide, 161 new COVID-related deaths were reported. Albany County alone reported nine, though four of them were nursing home deaths as far back as mid-December that it had not been notified about. Schenectady County reported three deaths, Greene County two, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Washington counties one each.
- The Troy Center for Nursing Center and Rehabilitation is the scene of an infection cluster — Rensselaer County said it received confirmation of 23 cases involving residents Wednesday. The facility’s website indicates a total of 31 residents and 14 staff had active COVID-19 infections as of Wednesday.
- The Mohawk Valley region continues to have the highest seven-day positive test rate among the state’s 10 regions at 10.7%; the Finger Lakes region is second (10.3%) and the Capital Region is third (10.1%).
- Seven-day positive test rates for counties in and around the Capital Region are: Albany 10.4%, Fulton 8.3%, Montgomery 12.3%, Rensselaer 10.7%, Saratoga 10.6%, Schenectady 10.8%, Schoharie 12.6%.